The Right Lie

Owen ran into the kitchen tonight, eyes bright with the beginnings of tears, lower lip quivering, on the very edge of crying. He was frightened.

I was making supper and, while I cooked, I was letting him watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It’s a bit too old for him, but he seemed to like it. I had watched a bit of it with him and had explained that the mean queen wanted to hurt Snow White but that it would be OK in the end. Snow White would be happy. She would, of course, live happily ever after.

Owen was really taken in by the scene where Snow White, seeing the Dwarfs’ messy house, concludes that they don’t have a mother. Owen caught on right away: “Maybe her can be their mother? I love Snow White. She can be my friend?”

Something in the film scared him, though. I think it was the transformation from the evil stepmother into the old crone. He kept saying that there was a mean lady queen and a mean man queen and they made him scared. He said this over and over again.

I reassured him as best I could. I said that the mean queen would hurt Snow White but that Snow White would get better and it would be OK. I told him that the mean queen (man or woman) couldn’t hurt him. That they had to stay inside the video. I told him if he got scared we could just close the computer. I told him I wouldn’t let them hurt him. I told him I wouldn’t let anyone hurt him.

That last one, of course, a little white lie.

And as I held him to me, reassuring him, kissing his little cheek, I was aware that I was lying, aware that it was the right lie. I will not willingly let anyone hurt my little boy, but I won’t be able to prevent him from being hurt. We all get hurt, repeatedly, relentlessly, even in the most mundane of lives. Even in lives full of love and good intentions. Still, he seemed soothed by my promise. “You won’t let anyone hurt me?”

“No, of course not, Owen. Of course I won’t.”